DeKALB – As Jamie Macdonald stood in the middle of the old DeKalb High School’s athletic complex, football was being played everywhere he looked.
There were 8-year-olds wrapping arms around tackle dummies, 10-year-olds learning the difference between a two- and three-point stance and 12-year-olds running through special teams drills.
This is the scene Macdonald, the Bengals’ athletic director, and six other originators had in mind when they created the DeKalb Bengals two years ago.
“There were some guys who were taking their kids over to Sycamore – I was taking my kids to Kaneland – and they play in the same conference,” Macdonald said. “Finally, we got together and said, ‘Let’s get our own thing going.’ It’s great that now these kids have rivals on the other team, but it’s nice to be developing our kids for our program.”
The Bengals are in their second year of existence, and the 192 campers at this week’s camp are 42 more than last summer. Campers are split into four age groups – 8U, 9U, 10U and 11U – but 12-year-olds are allowed to participate as long as they’re in sixth grade. Camp began Monday and finishes Thursday.
With Northern Illinois University a few blocks away, proximity has helped rapidly develop the Bengals’ program.
On Monday, former NIU linebacker Alex Kube directed warm-ups and jumped from station to station. Former Ohio State defensive back and current Huskies cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt helped, too.
During a water break, McNutt headed for another station when his 4-year-old son, Tre, tugged on his right arm with something urgent to say.
“Daddy,” Tre repeated six times, “they said, ‘Get some water.’ ”
Judging by the sweat on his face, McNutt could have used some. It was hot, with a cloudless sky and temperatures in the upper 80s, but McNutt was surrounded by football. The only thing he felt was energy, and he showed it as he taught.
“I think I have as much fun as they do,” McNutt says, “being able to tackle the little guys. These are the same kids that I’m going to see at the swimming pool or at the park. They’re going to come up and say, ‘What’s up, coach McNutt.’ That’s going to feel good that I was able to make an impact on them.”
Jason Klemm, 10, was one of the ‘little guys’ learning the technique of a two-point stance. His station coach told the players how to get off the line of scrimmage as a receiver, the importance of having hands ready and being in an athletic position. Klemm didn’t mind, but he has his sights set on another position.
“I’ve wanted to be a quarterback since I was 3,” Klemm says.
Macdonald said it doesn’t matter what position a camper wants to play. They’re going to learn them all.
“We’re an instructional and competitive football league,” Macdonald said. “We want to teach the fundamentals. No matter if you’re a quarterback or what, you’re going to learn to block and you’re going to learn to tackle, because come high school or middle school you never know what your body is going to do.”
His hope is someday they’ll use their knowledge for the Barbs’ varsity team. But more than that, Macdonald said, he wants kids to get involved with the game he’s played since he was a child.
“We want the program to get kids involved with football before they go on to another sport,” Macdonald said. “If a kid grows up in soccer and doesn’t play football until they’re 15 or 16 years old, they’re not going to make the switch. So hopefully they fall in love with the sport I fell in love with.”